In 2006 Graham Michael Lesch / aka Dennis Strydom gave me his original manuscript of Shadows of Justice. It was hilarious, racy and honest. I wrote an article about some of the highlights of his amazing life’s journey dodging both prison and racist mentality with art-fulness and humour which caused Graham to hire me as his ghost-writer.
Graham or Dennis as I knew him had a unique life story to tell. He called it “Shadows of Justice,” because from his more than 27 years of incarceration as a criminal in prison, he had seen the political situation of South Africa not change. He had seen truth, reconciliation and justice and any other noble ideas of transformation as mere shadows, and in fact illusions.
I on the other hand was a young music journalist with no experience of history or politics. Dennis did not mind. He said he would take me out of the music industry to do his book and when he was finished I would return, but in a different capacity. This turned out true.
Dennis felt Africa very strongly. He lived by the principles of uBuntu, patience and faith in the Almighty, which he called the great Architect of Africa.
Dennis was living on borrowed time. We had only six months to complete the story before he died, in which time he brought great changes to my life. He did not like the fact that I was living on South Beach —a notoriously dangerous part of Durban. So, he decided to move down to South Beach to a block of flats nearby. He was already quite frail at this time as he had several strokes over the last few years. This idea of living on South Beach did not seem conducive to the book, so I decided to avoid the scheduled meeting with Dennis and meet with his wife Jenny instead at their home in Glenwood, to air my concerns.
I arrived unannounced at Dennis’s front door, and to my surprise he was there waiting for me. He had called my bluff and had a big smile on his face. He said, “My brother you are coming to have a cup of tea with my wife,” and then gave his characteristic laugh.
We convinced Dennis he did not have to live on South Beach in order for me to complete his book. So he decided then and there if that was the case he did not want me living there either. We could do a mutually beneficial trade exchange. I would write his book and he would renovate my flat.
It was a scrappy old flat in a dangerous part of town. On the first day we went to the flat, Dennis picked up two willing lads from a street corner and an angle grinder and proceeded to rip up the kitchen, bathroom, floors and cupboards, making it absolutely unlivable.
I moved in with him in Bulwer Road and we began to rebuild the flat in the mornings and the book in the evenings.
On December 16th 2006, I presented a first draft of the manuscript of the work we had done together. Dennis decided we would have a braai to celebrate the fact that he had successfully handed the essence of his story over to me. Whilst I was cooking, he wandered out into the street and called in two big lads to share the braai with us. These were complete strangers. They happened to be African people from Zimbabwe. And together we chatted the night away and when the lads were ready to leave, Dennis asked them to photograph his bedroom, have the photographs printed and send them to Desmond Tutu. His bedroom with his beautiful African portraits, woodworks and colourful bed-spread was full of joy. Even his room shined with a kind of inner peace and humour.
In the new year, Dennis fell in the house and was admitted to hospital. I visited him. He held my hand in a powerful African embrace for what seemed like an eternity, he was full of humour, even strongly resigned to the fact that he was going to die in that hospital bed.
Dennis loved Bunny Wailor and when his friend Langa brought a copy of the album Liberation, he requested that the nurses play it for him. Whilst in prison had used the words to the song “Liberation,” to describe the political situation in South Africa.
This was his version of the song … “Ever since the abolition of slavery, all nations scared by inexplicable deeds, have revolutionised the ideological errors of their forefathers, creating a civilization, where human beings of whatever colour, race or creed, should be born with equal privileges, of the fundamental human rights, as established by the League of Nations, with respect to all human beings. Surely this cannot be seen in P.W. Botha? And if the beast was discovered in Adolf Hitler and the Anti-Christ in Mussolini -evidently this can be seen in presidents Botha, Vorster and Malan. Hendrik Verwoed paved the way for these Tsetse flies to place British Mentality in their Statute books. Those same men were the reincarnation of the Anti-Christs for which humans paid the price. Along came FW De Klerk covered their crimes by financing Inkhata and now these Tsetse flies hold the honours for all the inhumanities without any shame, and so victims passed through the bowels of Christ.”
When I left the hospital, Dennis gave me his personal copy of Robert Sobukwe’s speeches and said, “The book is in your hands.”
He died on February 1st 2007. His family and friends held a wonderful memorial service for him in the Durban Botanic Gardens.
Dennis had lived through the apartheid period of South African history. He had been a fighter in the struggle for a political freedom, a struggle in his opinion that was never resolved.
The struggle was more like a window dressing for the change in governance from the Nationalist Party to the African Nationalist Congress. There was no significant change, and according to Dennis, the same evil powers were still in control long after apartheid ended.
Dennis’s extraordinary determination to survive under the radical circumstances of the criminal justice system of apartheid, and then racist working environment of the time exposes the power of the human condition – and the generosity of unconditional love to overcome everything.
To have suffered as much as Dennis had in his life, but to have still lived out his life with humility and respect, was not only a satisfaction but a joy. Perhaps he never had the strength to forgive the past. But, he had an eternal youthfulness to him through his yearning for a common humanity where the qualities of compassion, kindness and understanding were evident.
Graham as he wished to be remembered, had helped many people and walked his own path with his own ingredients of love and compassion.
Completing this amazing story was made possible with the wonderful support from Dennis’s family, Jenny Clarke and Rebekha and from my friends, Adam, Tsidi and Michael who all took on this story with great enthusiasm.
“Yours for the cause of human destiny,” was the slogan that Graham or Dennis liked to use to sign his letters…